Sony and Microsoft have both launched new consoles recently (see our comparison of the new Xbox and our article on the Playstation 5). We recommend them if you want to enjoy games with never-before-seen graphics quality, on a huge 4K TV screen, all from the comfort of your own home. If, however, you’re looking for a console with a vast library of multiplayer games, indie titles, and exclusives that stand out from the crowd, then nothing beats the Nintendo Switch, especially if you’re looking to go on the go.
Unlike the PlayStation or Xbox, the Switch doesn’t try to take centre stage on your TV for the simple reason that it doesn’t support 4K and doesn’t offer many streaming video apps. That said, it continues to offer what Nintendo systems do best, which is great family games that have become classics from franchises like Mario, Zelda, Pokémon and Animal Crossing. And while recent Nintendo systems haven’t entertained players much between releases of each Mario title, the Switch offers a vast library of engaging, indie games, original experiences like cardboard robot kits and fitness accessories.
The Complete Guide:
What’s the difference between Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite?
The advantages of the Nintendo Switch
When should you choose the Switch Lite?
The Nintendo Switch Online subscription
What accessories to buy?
The first games to get
Frequently asked questions
What’s the difference between the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite?
The Switch and Switch Lite have the same design, the same software and almost the same games¹. The traditional Nintendo Switch has a 6.2-inch screen, removable Joy-Con controllers, and a dock that connects to the TV. These Joy-Con controllers are necessary for Nintendo’s experiences, such as Nintendo Labo and Ring Fit Adventure. They contain vibrators that trigger reactions when you play (and sometimes help you find hidden items in some titles). Note: They can be swapped or combined with many different coloured replacement controllers.
Next is the Switch Lite, a smaller model with a 5.5-inch screen and integrated controllers. It is less expensive and designed exclusively for portable use. Unfortunately, it is impossible to connect the Switch Lite to a TV, even with a separate docking station. It’s compatible with almost all the same games like the classic Switch – but not the ones that require the Joy-Cons to be removed – and the graphics are the same. Its buttons have a softer feel to them and don’t make as much of a clicking noise as the traditional Switch, a feature you might appreciate if you’re playing next to someone trying to sleep. It lacks a vibrator, however, and reading can sometimes be more difficult because the text is displayed smaller.
The advantages of the Nintendo Switch:
We recommend the traditional Nintendo Switch to the vast majority of our readers, mainly because it works in portable and docked modes. At the same time, the smaller Switch Lite is exclusively portable.
If you play any multiplayer games from your couch, you’ll definitely appreciate being able to do so on a TV rather than having to squint to make out the split-screen mode on the Switch Lite.
Make sure the Switch console you buy comes in a red box, and its serial number starts with “XKW”: this means it’s a revision of the Switch with improved battery life.
Even if you’re playing mostly in handheld mode, the standard Switch is still the best option for most users, in our opinion. However, in some dialogue-heavy games designed for a TV display, the text is written very small, which is harder to read on the Switch Lite’s smaller screen.
Its controllers are customizable, and they vibrate.
Another definite advantage of the standard Switch is that it can be easily customized by replacing the removable Joy-Con controllers with different coloured versions. Each Joy-Con contains a vibrator, which the Switch Lite does not. Usually, the vibration provides simple feedback when playing, but some titles activate it to indicate hidden items or convey other useful information.
With these removable controllers, you also get some of the strangest gaming experiences on the Switch. For example, Nintendo’s Labo hybrid series combines software and cardboard construction to turn the Switch and its controllers into a piano, a fishing rod, a radio-controlled car…
Some of Switch’s multiplayer games, such as Super Mario Party and Snipperclips, also use motion controls for fans of Wiki-style group games. Nintendo also offers the more traditional (but excellent) Switch Pro controller, which can be paired with a Switch Lite if you like big single-player action games. It’s much more convenient if you’re looking at a larger screen a few feet away.
When should I choose the Switch Lite?
When you have small hands
The best-case scenario is to have a Nintendo Switch Lite as a second Switch for a family member with smaller hands or someone who doesn’t necessarily want to connect the console to a TV or play with other people in the same room.
When you’re on a budget
It’s also worth noting that it’s sold for a hundred euros less than the standard Switch. That said, don’t buy the Switch Lite to save money; the games cost the same, and by the time you’ve bought five or six games at 60 euros each, the amount you’ve saved by buying the console won’t seem so great.
The Switch Lite doesn’t come with Joy-Con controllers or a kickstand to support it.
The Switch Lite doesn’t come with Joy-Con controllers or a kickstand to support it. WIRECUTTER / ANDREW CUNNINGHAM
When you travel a lot
While the bulkier Switch isn’t huge, the Switch Lite can be a better travel companion if you regularly carry it in a backpack or satchel – a Switch Lite in a small protective case takes up very little space. Also, it comes in more colours than the standard Switch, whose possible changes in look rely only on the different coloured controllers. On the other hand, the Switch Lite’s battery is about 20% less durable than the standard Switch’s.
The Nintendo Switch Online subscription
Nintendo Switch Online subscriptions are relatively inexpensive. Subscribing for an entire year at once is the cheapest option.
There is a fee to play online, but Nintendo subscriptions are cheaper than Sony and Microsoft. They are available for a choice of one month, three months or a year, and the price is on a sliding scale (a one-year subscription at once, for example, costs half as much as buying twelve individual months over time). Nintendo also offers a family plan that provides most of the benefits of an individual Switch Online subscription to multiple accounts (up to eight), all for 35 euros per year. Obviously, the more accounts you add, the better the deal – but these packages pay off with as few as two users.
These subscriptions can be purchased directly from Nintendo, but it is also possible to buy download codes for three months, twelve months or the family subscription elsewhere. These gift cards of sorts are sometimes on special offer so that you can save a few extra euros. In addition, if you spot a good deal on one of these subscriptions and plan to stay subscribed indefinitely, you can purchase the code and add it to your existing account, thus extending the remaining term of your subscription to three years. Note: a seven-day free trial is also available.
Keep in mind that these subscriptions do not cover every Switch you own, but rather the individual user accounts. If you have more than one active account on your Switch, you must subscribe to Switch Online for each account to play online and access exclusive downloadable content. Purchasing a family subscription is the best way to approach this.
In addition to online multiplayer (which covers everything from online competition in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to sending gifts to your friends in Animal Crossing), Switch Online subscriptions offer a few extra perks. For example, there are independent and exclusive games like Tetris 99 or Super Mario Bros.35, downloadable content for certain games, and discounts on the Nintendo e-Shop.
There are also collections of NES and SNES applications that include a few dozen games compatible with each of these systems (about 70 for the NES and 35 for the SNES, at the time of writing, depending on the country you live in). These collections feature a lot of Nintendo’s top games and more obscure titles, but not much in between; that said, all the Mario and Zelda games that users want to play the most are well represented. Nintendo adds a few new titles to this selection every couple of months or so, though recent additions have been more on the curiosity side than the memorable side.
Family members generally have access to the same elements as individual members, including playing online, using the same downloadable games, and other content. However, there are exceptions: for example, Nintendo only sells four of its Super Nintendo replica controllers per Switch Online subscription, regardless of whether you have an individual or family subscription. There are no other drawbacks, however.
Accessories to buy
Here are the important accessories you should consider purchasing.
A microSD card
The 32GB of storage on a Switch console runs out quickly. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild alone eats up 13.4GB. So we recommend buying the SanDisk MicroSDXC 128GB card for Nintendo Switch to get more space. That said, any branded microSD card stamped with at least U1 (for speed class) is fast enough for the Switch. Samsung’s Evo Select cards are a bit cheaper than the SanDisk and not much slower, and that’s what we recommend if you’re looking for a 256GB card. Since there’s little writing on the card when playing a game, you won’t notice the speed difference as much as you would on a smartphone or camera. If you spot a 128GB card for well under 20 Euros (or a 256GB card for much less than 40 Euros), we recommend you buy it.
A screen protector
A screen protector is a good investment for any device with a large touch screen, especially for the two Switch models whose plastic screens scratch surprisingly easily. We like the amFilm tempered glass screen protectors for the Switch and Switch Lite. They cover the entire screen of the console, are scratch-resistant, and each box contains several protectors if your first attempt at the application goes wrong.
A Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
The standard Switch includes a stand for the two Joy-Cons, which form a full-size controller when playing on the TV. But if your Switch spends a lot of time on the dock this way, the Switch Pro Controller might be a wise investment. It’s more comfortable to hold for long periods of time, and anyone used to an Xbox or PlayStation gamepad will appreciate its traditionally sized joysticks and buttons.
Handles for the Joy-Cons
Individual Joy-Cons are handy controllers to pass around when playing multiplayer board games, but they can be awkward to handle during long play sessions. We like the FastSnail, which gives each Joy-Con handles and a larger circumference to make them more comfortable to hold. They’re inexpensive, available in as many colours as the Joy-Cons, and are a nice step up from the small plastic sliders provided by Nintendo.
The first games to get
Super Mario Odyssey
You probably don’t need anyone’s advice to buy a Mario game for your Nintendo system. But if you’re new to Switch and have enjoyed a title in the Mario franchise before, you should know that Super Mario Odyssey has everything that makes this universe so special: the carefully crafted and inventive worlds, the precise yet flexible platforming, the fun of playing as Mario… You’re guaranteed dozens of hours of fun, especially if you want to unearth all the game’s secrets.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing games are hard to describe if you’ve never played them. Some of the activities offered that may seem mundane include bug hunting, fishing, interior design, city planning, weeding, landscaping, and some simple archaeology. These games have always focused on the idea of stress-free fun, and the New Horizons edition is sure to win over longtime fans. Released in the midst of the global pandemic, the game became a sensation, inspiring countless Internet memes and becoming part of popular culture. Since then, the frenzy has died down a bit, and Animal Crossing remains a relaxing game that’s easy to play. It feels like a soothing balm, a way to connect with the outside world at a time when interacting is much more difficult than usual.
Other games we like too.
What’s mainly missing from the Switch’s library? Big franchises like Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption and Battlefield. That’s partly because their rich graphics make it hard for them to work as well on the Switch as they do on a recent PlayStation, Xbox or PC. Still, the Switch offers a great selection of Nintendo-exclusive games that aren’t available on other consoles, including Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, but also Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
There are also many independent developers, with multiplayer games such as Overcooked, TowerFall and Ultimate Chicken Horse; platform and action games such as Celeste, Dead Cells, Hades and Hollow Knight; and unique experiences like Baba Is You and Untitled Goose Game. Of course, none of these games is exclusive to the Switch, but it’s the only console that makes it easy to play on a train, on a plane or from bed.
Frequently asked questions
What’s in the box?
The traditional Nintendo Switch box includes the console, a left Joy-Con, a right Joy-Con, two Joy-Con straps (for when you play with each Joy-Con individually), a Joy-Con Grip (for when you play with both Joy-Cons together), the Switch dock, the USB Type-C charger and an HDMI cable.
As for the Switch Lite, since it doesn’t have a detachable Joy-Con or a docking station, it’s straightforward to carry. Inside the case are the console and a USB-C charger.
What SD card capacity should I get?
If you mainly buy your games as hardware cards to be inserted into the Switch, a 128GB microSD card may prove sufficient. Game saves, updates and downloadable content are still kept on the SD card, but the actual game data (which usually requires more memory than all of these other items combined) is stored on the game card. And you’ll still have space to store download-only games on the SD card when you buy them.
However, if you plan to download most of your games, choose a MicroSD card of at least 256GB; this will ensure that all downloaded games are ready to be launched directly. The Switch supports larger microSD cards, but 256GB versions generally offer the best cost/gigabyte ratio.
Can I use the Switch Lite with my TV?
No, even if you plug it into a docking station, the Switch Lite does not have the internal hardware to display a video signal on a TV.
Can I download my games to more than one Switch?
Yes, but it isn’t straightforward. If you have multiple Switch consoles at home (a traditional version connected to a TV and a Switch Lite for a child, for example), you can download all the games and downloadable content you’ve purchased from the Switch eShop to both consoles. However, when logging into multiple Switches with the same user account, Nintendo forces one Switch to be designated as the “primary” console and all others as “non-core.” The latter is subject to several restrictions, which Nintendo describes here (these types of restrictions also exist on Xbox or Playstation).
In short, you need an Internet connection to play a game downloaded to a non-main console (or any game for which you have purchased downloadable content, even if the game itself is on its own card). If you don’t have an internet connection or are playing a game downloaded to the main Switch, you won’t be able to play it on the non-main console.
While any account on the main Switch can play any game downloaded by any other user account, games downloaded to non-main consoles can only be played by the user account that originally purchased them. So, for example, if you want to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in local multiplayer mode, you need two copies of the game.
Can I play old Nintendo games with Virtual Console?
Not really. Nintendo’s Wii, 3DS, and Wii U systems could host a selection of games for older Nintendo and third-party systems via Nintendo’s Virtual Console service. These games were purchased and downloaded individually, just like any other game. Other than the collections of NES and SNES games offered with a Switch Online subscription, Nintendo does not currently sell older games individually, and the selection offered by these applications is not as extensive as the Virtual Console collections.
In place of Virtual Console, other game developers have released a range of older games for the Switch, sold separately or as part of retro gaming collections. These include just about every Mega Man game that ever existed, a wide selection of Final Fantasy games and other RPG titles from Square Enix, a boatload of Sonic the Hedgehog and other old Sega Genesis games, and more.
Is the Switch backwards compatible with 3DS or Wii U games?
No. The Switch can’t play 3DS game cards or Wii U discs. However, Nintendo has re-released many underrated Wii U titles for the Switch, such as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Pikmin 3, with improved graphics and additional content.
Is a new Switch coming soon?
Nintendo is reportedly currently working on an updated Nintendo Switch system that could be released in 2021, though this projected timeline has not been confirmed and could be subject to change. So take everything we’re about to say with a grain of salt.
Rather than a brand new console, the new Switch is an upgraded version of the PlayStation 4 Pro (article) or the New Nintendo 3DS (ditto). It should offer better performance and new hardware features while maintaining compatibility with the same library of games. Current Switch games should continue to work with the updated Switch (with possible graphical upgrades in some cases), and we should be able to play upcoming Switch titles on the new console and all older versions of the Switch.
The most credible rumours (article in English) indicate that the new console would be compatible with the 4K video format, as is the case for high-end consoles signed by Microsoft and Sony. That’s not to say that all games will be in 4K since current Switch titles run at various resolutions depending on their graphical complexity. Still, it would be a definite improvement over the current maximum of 1080p. On the other hand, there’s still a lot we don’t know.
If you or a family member are eager to purchase a Switch, don’t necessarily put off that purchase until a new console is available, as it should allow you to play the same games. If, however, you’re intrigued by the Switch or plan to purchase a second one for your household, it may be worth waiting a few months to see if Nintendo announces a release.
While all Switch games can also run on the Switch Lite, many of them require the Joy-Cons to be connected to work. Also, many Labo sets are designed to work with the shape and size of a Switch with the Joy-Cons detached. Return to text.